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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

Count Our Blessings

Sunday Before Thanksgiving

What are the things you associate most with Thanksgiving? Turkey and stuffing and pumpkin pie? Family get-togethers? Football? A long weekend for just relaxing? Plenty of leftovers?

Most of us associate Thanksgiving with all of these things and, of course, with the story of the Pilgrims and the Indians sharing a feast at Plymouth Rock. Yet America’s very first National Day of Thanksgiving had nothing to do with feasting.

On December 4, 1619, 38 English settlers arrived at Berkeley Plantation, on the James River near what is now Charles City, Virginia. The group memorialized their arrival with a day of thanksgiving to God. Even the Pilgrim’s first official proclamation of a “Day of Thanksgiving” was a follow-up to the day of fasting and prayer for rain, instituted by then Governor William Bradford. Finally, in 1863 President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November “a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father.” What most Americans now consider a secular holiday was rooted in the spiritual exercise of giving thanks to God!

Maybe a subtle materialism has crept into our own thinking and Thanksgiving observance, even as believers. While most of us give thanks to “our beneficent Father” at this season, for what do we offer our thanks and praise? How much of our focus is on the physical blessings that so many of us enjoy in abundance? Our focus on the material, temporal blessings sometimes overshadow the far more significant spiritual, eternal blessings God has bestowed on us.

I’m not saying that we should ignore the physical blessings God provides, not at all! But these benefits come and go, while the best reasons to thank and praise God never fail, but only grow in strength and number. Here are just a few:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” (Ephesians 1:3)

“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness, through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.” (2 Peter 1:3)

“It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” (I Corinthians 1:30)

What more do we need than “every spiritual blessing,” “everything we need for life,” “righteousness, holiness and redemption”? And these are just three verses of the many precious promises to us in God’s Word.

Of the nearly 150 mentions of “thanks” or “thanksgiving” in the Bible, only a few are tied to physical or material benefits. The majority extol the character of God himself, the love He has shown us, and the spiritual benefits He has extended.

We need this reminder these days. Many are facing financial struggles, economic uncertainties, and a number of other physical concerns. How do we deal with these changing circumstances? We can always remember how much we have in comparison to those less fortunate in this world. That always gives a proper perspective on things.

Still, if our thankfulness were tied only to material things, we might be tempted to be less thankful this year than last. But that would be wrong! It would be wrong, not only because God promises to provide for all our needs, but because in Christ He has already given “everything we need for life and godliness”!

I’ve resolved to try to make this Thanksgiving the most spiritually-focused, thanks-filled celebration yet. Why don’t you make the same choice, if you haven’t already? We can do this by meditating on God’s promises to all believers. And as we consider all the spiritual blessings God has given us, the realization of God’s love shown in Jesus will cause an overflowing of thanksgiving.

We can also list the spiritual blessings that God has personally given to us as individuals.

Our (former) First Lady, Laura bush, wrote, “This year we should keep foremost in mind our most basic principles. What happened September 11 should remind us how blessed we are in our country for all the freedoms we have. We have the freedom to worship however we might wish, for example. This Thanksgiving will give us a chance to list our blessings, when before we may have taken them for granted.” Good words from a good lady!

It’s good to be specific, thinking through all that has happened over the past year that has led to spiritual growth and blessings in our lives. Some of God’s blessings are very private. But I’d like to share part of my list with you:

  • Thank you, Lord, for saving me and forgiving me of all my sins.

  • Thank you for filling me with your Holy Spirit and giving me grace to walk in fellowship with you each day.

  • Thank you for the assurance of answered prayer and for the hope of Heaven.

  • Thank you for the family of God, for all the love and prayers of family and friends who uphold me in my service for you.

  • Thank you that you challenge me to grow and draw closer to you in the painful times, and that you are always faithful, and always love me no matter what.

One more suggestion: make an effort to share your thankfulness with others. Some people find holidays stressful because family members so often complain and criticize one another – or because family members or friends don’t thank God for anything.

But gratitude and thanksgiving are contagious and tend to spread joy. So, share some of your own reasons for giving thanks to God.

God enjoys our thanks. He loves to dwell with thankful people. Words of gratitude will invite Him into our presence. And that’s what will make this the best Thanksgiving ever!


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